As a young girl growing up in the South THE YEARLING was a must read in school. Its author, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, won the Pulitizer prize in 1938 for the true story of her neighbors in backwoods Florida. The novel was later made into a movie starring Gregory Peck and Jane Wyman. It too is a classic.
I knew nothing about the writer until recently when I saw a 1984 film of her life, Cross Creek. Travelling through Gainesville, Florida I discovered that her home still existed and is an attraction that draws 30,000 visitors a year.
The sign at the entrance of Cross Creek reads : " It is necessary to leave the impersonal highway, to step inside the rusty gate and close it behind. One is now inside the orange grove, out of the world and in the mysterious heart of another. After long years of spiritual homelessness, of nostalgia, here is the mystic loveliness of childhood again. Here is home. "
A transplanted northerner with sophisticated taste and a city girl's education, Marjorie endeared herself to her "cracker " neighbors in the wild swampland of Cross Creek by learning and respecting their ways. She could " cuss and drink along with the best of them. " She was also at home and friends with such literary giants as Margaret Mitchell, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Truly an " enigma wrapped in a mystery ! "
Marjorie loved her garden which produced the food for her superb cooking. She wrote Cross Creek Cookery, a treasury of Southern recipes that uses local game, fruit and produce. This is not a cookbook in the traditional sense but an evocative and charmingly conversational discussion of cooking. Her garden has been restored and still produces vegetables, herbs and flowers. Of it she wrote " I do not know how anyone can live without some small place of enchantment to come to. "
Of her beloved Cross Creek home she wrote : " But what of the land? It seems to me that the earth may be borrowed but not bought. It may be used but not owned. It gives itself in response to love and tending , offers its seasonal flowering and fruiting. But we are tenants and not possessors, lovers and not masters. Cross Creek belongs to the wind and the rain, to the sun and the season, to the cosmic secrecy of seeds , and beyond, to all time."
As I looked at the silent typewriter sitting on her desk, the novel THE YEARLING and the Pulitzer Prize nearby I was moved by the character of this woman who could've been the darling of the literary world and high society but instead chose the simple life . She'd rather hear the song of cardinals and mockingbirds .
Her friend says it best : " Ponce De Leon discovered Florida in 1513 but found only the physical and material aspects of it. Then, more than 400 years later, you came to discover the heart and spirit of Florida and reveal them to the world in writings of rare beauty and sensitivity. "